Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a time and a place for everything.
Manhattan is the epicenter of the economic tsunami which now is sending shock-waves all around the world... But Manhattan is also the “situation room” for getting the global economy back on its feet.
I am delighted to be here. I am delighted to be here, to meet with all of you - from government and business, the academic world and the press – at this very moment, when you have to sit down at the drawing board, to redesign the rules of the global economic game.
Because I have a story to tell you. The story about women in the boardroom as a competitive edge. The story about women making money – and making babies – being able to pursue a career and build a family. Not only the one or the other.
This is our experience in Norway over the past few decades. And it didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t happen because Norwegian women are particularly fertile.
It happened because we – Norwegian business, government and society at large – wanted it to happen. And we took political decisions to make it happen. Through legislation and financial incentives we guided business and the markets in the right direction.
And I believe that the story is worth your attention since our policy has spurred our economic growth. We are more economically competitive because we are ahead with our family and gender policies.
Today, according to the CIA factbook, Norway has a gross domestic product per capita which is 20 per cent higher that that of the United States.
And if you believe that this is because of oil, take a look at the comparable figures of other oil producing countries, like Russia, Venezuela or Angola.
It is because we have sound family and gender policies, as part of sound economic policy.
Let me take you back a couple of years to illustrate this: As most industrialized countries, Norway had a rapidly aging population. Fewer and fewer children were born. The answer to this challenge had two obvious, but potentially contradictory components: We had to make more babies, and we had to increase the workforce.
How did we do it? We acknowledged a market failure.
Against this background, we did not shy away from measures interfering in the market. Through legislations and financial priorities we provided:
- Greatly extended parental leave rules.
- Greatly improved parantal leave benefits.
- A rapid increase in kindergardens and day-care centers, and we expect full coverage from next year.
These policies allow women to chose, both to have family and children, and professional lives and incomes as well.
As a result, we have increased Norway’s total available workforce by 200.000 women – and that in a country of only 4,5 million people. Women’s participation in the workforce is now 80% which is the highest among industrial countries. Take for example Germany where that ration is less than 60 per cent, and their economic performance per capita is only two-thirds of ours. As a result of our policies, our birth-rate has increased every year and now stands at 1,96 – the highest in Europe.
My main point: Pro-active market intervention for gender equality is not only a matter of doing the right thing from a social and moral perspective - it is necessary to ensure sustainable economic growth and development, in rich and poor countries alike.
Let me now turn to the business perspective:
International research shows that women in company boardrooms may have a positive impact on company performances.
A study of the US Fortune 500 by Catalyst, a non-profit group, suggest that having three or more women on the board correlates strongly with above-average return on shareholder equity, sales and invested capital. Conversely, the same survey shows that companies with no women on their board tended to have below-average returns.
This should come as no surprise: In the book “Why women mean business”, the authors point out that women are making the majority of consumer spending decisions. Even when it comes to buying cars, women tend to take the lead in the decision process.
This demonstrates in a simple way the importance of having female representation both in leadership positions and also in boards in business life. You need women to know your customers!
Talents are equally distributed between men and women. A majority of university graduates are women, and increasingly also from business schools. In 2003 industry recruited only 7 % women to their boardrooms. Competent women were not seen – not recruited. Today women have taken 40 % of the boardroom positions.
This is the result of our law introduced in 2003, making it mandatory for all publicly registered companies to have at least 40 % of both genders in company boards. And mind you, this was proposed by a conservative cabinet – and endorced by ours. It was truly bi-partisan.
The 40% gender quota has proven to be a successful strategy in boosting the number of women in leading economic and corporate decision-making. All the companies affected by the new law, complied with the necessary Gender Balance requirements.
The quota caused a big discussion when it was introduced. The Business Confederations strongly disagreed with the use of the quota. But today, the critics have gone silent. Highly competent women have taken their seats at the boardroom tables, and their companies perform accordingly: Very well !
Yes, this is about democracy and equal rights of participation in the society. But moreover, and in terms of Business Management, it is also about using gender equality and family friendly policies as a catalyst for improving corporate and commercial decision-making. Employing all available human capital is simply good for business!
Our family and gender equality policies have made it possible - for both men and women - to reconcile executive responsibilities with family life and care for their children.
Recent surveys in Norway also confirm with empirical evidence that families where men take a greater share in family care, also are more happy, stable and sustainable. Their divorce rates are lower and they have more babies, while performing above average in the marketplace!
To continue bringing this agenda forward, my government presented a white paper to parliament last December: It’s is called Men, Male Roles and Gender Equality. Copies should be available in the room.
My friends, before I close, let me say a few words on US/Norwegian cooperation:
As I pointed out from the start: This seminar takes place at a crucial moment – a turning point – not only for the world economy, but perhaps even more so for the United States of America.
You have just elected a young, modern President with a bold and ambitious agenda for change. In his first few weeks in office, President Obama has lived up to the great expectations facing him, not least in Europe.
The President’s inaugural speech, his excellent address to Congress last week and his first budget just presented, are all truly remarkable in their embrace of government as a force for good, also for markets and the business community.
As a Norwegian social democrat, I can only say: Welcome to the club!
I therefore hope this seminar will be a launching pad for closer dialogue and cooperation, both between our governments and between our business communities.
Thank you very much and have a great day!